Today, as I marveled at the lofty white clouds drifting across a deep-blue sky, I was reminded of how blessed I am to live in such a beautiful time and place and how thankful I should be for the privilege. After over a week of sweltering heat and high humidity, the cooler northwestern air slipping down from Canada is a welcome relief, the outside air-conditioning is delightful! The old Great Miami River that courses its way by my house on the way to the Gulf of Mexico is clearing up again, and upon seeing it this morning I was reminded just how pretty it is. As I stood and considered what a beautiful setting I live in here in good ole’ Shelby County, I was reminded of a man I once met, who taught me a lesson about humility and how much I take for granted.
A few years ago, I was visiting my neighbor who was recovering from surgery; when leaving his house, a car pulled up. It was my neighbor’s pastor who stopped by for visitation. We shared greetings and then as I walked down the drive back toward my house, I noticed a small man with piercing eyes sitting in the pastor’s car; he studied me as I approached. I said hello, introduced myself and struck up a conversation.
The man in the car was an African national, (sadly I do not recall what country) that the church supported in their mission work. He explained the church, located in Sidney, had raised over $10,000 to drill a well in the tiny, remote village where he came from, and they had also paid to bring him to the United States to meet the congregation. He was a very serious, humble, soft-spoken gentleman; a man of character, and what he lacked in diction, he made up for with a sincere smile. I welcomed him, asked if he was enjoying his stay, and told him I lived next door. All the time I spoke I noticed his eyes were fixed on the Miami River just across the road from my house, finally he asked; “Is that your river?” I grinned, replied no, and said that I did own the land next to it but explained it was everyone’s river to fish, swim, and canoe in if they chose to do so. He asked if he could walk over for a closer look; I said yes, he got out of the car and we walked over to the river for a look-see.
As we walked to the river’s edge, stopped, watched, and listened to the tinkling water flowing by, I saw a smile come to his face as great tears of joy streamed down his weathered cheeks, he did not bother to wipe away his tears. “What a beautiful, beautiful river,” he said with a noticeable quiver in his voice. It was in the springtime, the month of May I believe, and the river looked especially nice that time of year and as I stood there taking it all in, I was reminded why he thought something I took for granted was such a beautiful thing to behold.
Continuing in conversation he told me he lived with his wife and 22 orphaned children whose parents had died of AIDS. They resided in a small house that measured 20 by 30 feet; at night they all slept in rows of hammocks that were fastened to the interior walls, in the daytime they unhooked the hammocks to make more room inside. The house was mainly used for shelter from insects and dangerous wildlife; they did all their cooking outside over a fire or made baked goods in an oven constructed of stone.
He said they all arose every morning two hours before sunrise and after getting the children ready to go, walked five miles one way to get enough water for each day’s use. Each child was given at least one or two empty 2-litre pop bottles to carry, (the larger children and adults carried up to four full bottles they carried in a sack tossed over their shoulder) and they all made that journey every day just to fill their bottles in a small muddy stream and then walked back home; this they did without fail regardless of weather conditions and had to go early to avoid the afternoon heat which was unbearable.
Continuing, the little man said after returning home from their daily trip, they let the water settle in the bottles and carefully poured the cleanest water off the top to drink and used the rest for bathing and cooking. He said he did all this “in the name Christ Jesus” and that it was the least he could do for his Saviour. — Now two of us had tears in our eyes.
The man said he was very excited about the prospects of a new well and noted that soon they too would have beautiful water and after the new well was dug and he planned to use the water to make a better life for the children and his people.
Later when we walked back to the house, the pastor explained the new well would not only provide water for the village but would most likely create a new economy, as some of the water could be sold or traded for food or other much-needed items. It would be a life-changing gift that was worth more than gold to those living there.
As I readied to leave, I clasped the man’s little black hand in mine, I wished him well and told him I would remember him and his people in prayer; he said, “I will do the same for you and your people”… I felt honored to stand in his presence.
That meeting and conversation forever changed the way I looked at the Great Miami River. To this day, I often think of that man, I sure hope he got his well. And yes, we do take a lot for granted — Thank God for the “little” things!
The writer, who resides in Sidney, is a regular contributor to the Sidney Daily News.